A new era has dawned for UMBC men’s basketball as head coach Ryan Odom made his debut this month. The Retrievers made Odom’s debut a success this weekend, blowing out Hood College 92-61 and outlasting the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks on Sunday 77-73. Much like coach Odom’s previous coaching stop, the Retrievers (2-0) relied heavily on the three-point shot, but showed they could win without it.
Against Hood, the Retrievers tied the school record for three-pointers made in the victory (17). 43 of UMBC’s 67 field goal attempts came from downtown. In addition, the Retrievers shot the three with 40 percent efficiency. While it is still early in the season, it’s a welcome change from last year.
In the 2015-16 season, the Retrievers ranked near the bottom of the America East Conference (AEC) in three-point percentage (.331). “43 threes is a lot of threes,” Odom said. “We made a good amount of them and they were the right ones.”
Seniors Ben Grace and Will Darley led the charge in the three-point barrage against Hood. Darley shot 4-9 from long distance while Grace went 4-8. Grace had 12 points and three assists. Darley added 14 points and four dimes. Both men showed the ability to stretch the defense and provide space for teammates to attack the paint.
UMBC also moved the ball well against Hood. The team finished with 21 assists and nine players had at least one. “I think the most important thing for us is taking the right shots,” Odom said. “Our guys did a nice job of not settling and moving [the ball].”
The dominant win over Hood, a division III program, provided glimpses of what the Retrievers could do this season. UMBC dazzled the crowd with their great ball movement. Freshmen Mark Curran and Arkel Lamar both played well coming off the bench, and provided great energy.
Coach Odom spoke highly of the two underclassmen and their upside. “They’ve played better in practice then they played in [the Hood game],” Odom said. “We’re gonna need [Curran] and Arkel to play well.”
In the Hood game, UMBC exploited a slight size and athleticism advantage, and dominated the glass. The Retrievers out rebounded Hood 44-17, including a 23-6 edge on the offensive side. Additionally, UMBC outscored the Blazers in the paint 36-20. “It was a great effort by our guys,” Odom said. “Our rebounding was good, our shot selection was very good.”
Even with the slight size advantage, UMBC still struggled to defend inside. Hood was aggressive in attacking the basket, particularly in the second half. UMBC did not attempt a free throw until the 9:07 mark in the second half. “It’s a big concern,” Odom said. “We’ve gotta guard the basketball better, we’ve got to keep guys in front of us, and we’ve got to play without fouling.”
Jairus Lyles remains a vital part to the success of the team. The transfer from Virginia Commonwealth University scored 18 points against Hood, leading all scorers. Lyles also shot an efficient 8-14 from the field. Lyles made a couple of dazzling plays in transition, along with a couple of putbacks off of missed shots.
Lyles did not slow down in the win over the Hawks, scoring 23 points along with six rebounds and six assists. “I just wanted to go out there and get the win for my team,” Lyles said after the win over Hood. “I felt like we had a great team effort on offense, sharing the ball and getting everyone involved.”
Unlike the opener, the Retrievers did not bludgeon the Hawks with a barrage of threes– they took 25 compared to 43 against Hood. In fact, the Retrievers struggled to put the ball in the net throughout, shooting only 36 percent from the field and 32 percent from long range.
UMBC made up for the cold shooting with continuous trips to the foul line– a stark contrast to opening day against Hood. In the game against Hood, the Retrievers created plenty of open looks. Whenever a player drove the ball inside, they quickly kicked it out to an open man.
Against UMES, the Retrievers faced more of a man-to-man type defense, compared to Hood’s zone defense and exploited it. UMBC went 25-34 from the charity stripe which proved to be a big reason why they pulled out the win.
Against the Hawks (0-2), the size matchup was a bit more even. This showed up in the rebounding numbers, a 40-40 deadlock. The Retrievers did own a plus-five margin on the offensive glass.
The Retrievers defense played well throughout the weekend. UMBC held Hood to 42 percent shooting for the game. Only one Blazers player finished in double figures. The defense slipped a little against Eastern Shore. The Hawks shot 46 percent from the field and 40 percent from long distance. Last season, the Retrievers ranked near or at the bottom of the America East in field goal percentage allowed, three-point percentage allowed, and points allowed.
UMBC looked impressive through two games. In the process, they showed the ability to overwhelm teams with the three and pull out wins when the shots are not falling. However, all their games won’t be against division III schools, nor teams that went 10-22 like Eastern Shore. Still, the Retrievers’ pristine start gives fans reason for early jubilation.